A few years ago, the world-wide American periodical Life Magazine could announce that Oscar Schindler - famous as the central figure in Spielberg`s film "Schindler`s List", which received 7 Oscars - had been acclaimed a hero and elevated to the "Heroes`Hall of Fame". Side by side with famous historical figures like George Washington, Gandhi, Churchill and Martin Luther King ...



This Oscar Schindler has been described as a cynical, greedy exploiter of slave workers during the Second World War, a black-marketeer, gambler, member of the Nazi party eternally on the lookout for profit, alcoholic playboy and shameless womanizer of the worst sort.

In the beginning of the 1960s, this same Oscar Schindler was honoured in Israel and declared "Righteous" and invited to plant a tree in The Avenue of the Righteous, which leads to the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem. A memorial in the Park of Heroes praises him as the Saviour of more than 1,200 Jews!

Today there are more than 6,000 descendants of Schindler`s Jews living in the USA and Europe, and many in Israel. Before the Second World War, the Jewish population of Poland was 3.5 million. Today there are between 3,000 and 4,000 left.

Rake - and Saviour ... Who was this Oscar Schindler who started by earning millions of German marks through exploitation of slave workers and ended by spending his last pfennig and risking his life to save "his" 1,200 Schindler Jews from Hitler´s death camps?

Oscar Schindler was born on April 28th, 1908, in Zwittau in Czechoslovakia in a home imbued with his parents` deep piety. The nearest neighbours were a Jewish Rabbi family, and the two sons became Oscar`s best friends. The family was one of the richest and most prominent in Zwittau, but as a result of the deep economic depression of the 1930s, the family firm became bankrupt.


On March 6, 1928, Emilie and Oscar married, and the wedding celebration took place in an inn on the outskirts of Zwittau

Now without employment, Schindler joined the Nazi party, as did many others at that time. It was opportune, when one remembers that the first German divisions invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939. Maybe because he had seen possibilities which the war brought in its wake, he followed on the heels of the SS when the Germans invaded Poland.

Oscar Schindler quickly got on good terms with the local Gestapo chiefs and rejoices here over life in the beginning of the 1940s - he was a womanisor and heavy drinker, but continually risked his life to save his Schindler Jews from the deathcamps.

Schindler was recruited by the German Intelligence Agency to collect information about Poles and was highly esteemed for his efforts - a fact that was to play a decisive role later in the war for Schindler, when he needed all his contacts. 

He left his wife Emilie in Zwittau and moved to Crakow, where he took over a Jewish family`s apartment.  Bribes in the shape of money and illegal black market goods flowed copiously from Schindler and gave him control of a Jewish-owned enameled-goods factory, Deutsch Emailwaren Fabrik, close to the Jewish ghetto, where he principally employed Jewish workers. At this time presumably because they were the cheapest labour ...

Holocaust Photos


But slowly as the brutality of the Nazis accelerated with murder, violence and terror, the seeds of their plan for the total extermination of the Jews dawned on Schindler in all its horror - he came to see the Jews not only as cheap labour, but also as mothers, fathers, and children, exposed to ruthless slaughter.


So he decides to risk everything in desperate attempts to save "his" 1200 Schindler Jews from certain death in the hell of the death camps. Thanks to massive bribery and his connections, he gets away with actively protecting his workers.


The SS officer Amon Goeth, the commandant of the Plaszow labor camp, had made the final liquidation of the Crakow ghetto and had experience at three death camps in eastern Poland, Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka ...

The conditions of life at Plaszow were made dreadful by Goeth. A prisoner in Plaszow was very lucky if he could survive in this camp more than four weeks. The camp shown in Spielberg's film Schindler's List is the exact description of Plaszow.

Amon Goeth

Amon Goeth passed his mornings by using his high-powered, scoped rifle to shoot at children playing in the camp - he often would use it as an incentive to work harder. For example, some young men hauling coal were moving too slow for his liking. He shot one of them with his sniper rifle so the rest would hurry up.

Oscar Schindler outwitted Hauptsturmfuhrer Amon Goeth. When Schindler requested that those Jews who continued to work in his factory be moved into their own sub-camp near the plant "to save time in getting to the job," Goeth complied. From then on, Schindler found that he could have food and medicine smuggled into the barracks with less danger. The guards, of course, were bribed, and Goeth never was to discover it, though Oscar Schinder was arrested twice ...

At the point when his ambitions have been realized and he could walk away from the war a rich man while "his Jews" die in Plaszow and Auschwitz, Oscar Schindler desperately spends every penny he has bribing and paying off Amon Goeth and other Nazi officials to protect and save his Jews.  

In a symbolic reversal of his earlier purpose in life, he spends all the money he made by exploiting the labour of Jews in buying the lives of Jews; whatever is not spent in bribing Goeth and other Nazi officials is subsequently spent in feeding and protecting his Jews.

At his factory, situated by the work camp of Plaszow, Nazi guards are instructed to stay on their side of the fence and nobody is allowed inside the factory without permission from Schindler himself. He spends every night in his office so he can intervene if the Gestapo come.

Twice he is arrested by the Gestapo - but is released, undoubtedly first and foremost because of his many connections.

At his factory, workers are only half as hungry as in other camps - meals at Schindler`s have a calorie count of 2000 as against 900 in other places. When food supplies are critical, Schindler spends great sums of money purchasing food supplies on the black market.

At his factory the old are registered as being 20 years younger, children are registered as adults. Lawyers, doctors and artists are registered as metal workers and mechanics - all so they can survive as essential for the war industry.

At his factory, nobody is hit, nobody murdered, nobody sent to death camps like the nearby Auschwitz.

Jewish slave workers at Schindler`s factory in Plaszow 

They were protected and saved by Oscar Schindler. In those years, millions of Jews died in Nazi death camps like Treblinka and Auschwitz, but Schindler`s Jews miraculously survived, to their own surprise, in Plaszow right up to 1944. Schindler bribed the Nazis to get food and better treatment for his Jews during a time when one of the most civilized nations of the world was capable of systematic mass-murder.

When the Nazis were beaten back on the East Front, Plaszow and its satellite camps were dissolved and closed. Schindler had no illusions as to what that would entail. Desperately he exerted his influence on his contacts in the military and industrial circles in Crakow and Warsaw and finally went to Berlin to save his Jews from a certain death. With his life as the stakes, he employed all his powers of persuasion, he bribed uninhibitedly, fought, begged ...

Where no-one would have believed it possible, Schindler succeeded. He was granted permission to move the whole of his factory from Plaszow to Brunnlitz in occupied Czechoslovakia and furthermore, unheard of before, take all his workers with him. In this way, the 1,098 workers who had been written on Schindler`s list in connection with the removal avoided sharing the fate of the other 25,000 men, women and children of Plaszow who were sent without mercy to extermination in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, only 60 kilometers from Plaszow.


By a mistake 300 Schindler-women were routed on a train to Auschwitz. Certain death awaited. A Schindler survivor, Anna Duklauer Perl, later recalled:'I knew something had gone terribly wrong .. they cut our hair real short and sent us to the shower. Our only hope was Schindler would find us.'

After weeks Anna and the other Schindler-women were being herded off toward the showers again. They did not know whether this was going to be water or gas. Then they heard a voice:'What are you doing with these people ? These are my people.' Schindler! He had come to rescue them, bribing the Nazis to retrieve the women on his list and bring them back.

The women were released - the only shipment out of Auschwitz during WW2.

When the women returned to Brunnlitz, weak, hungry, frostbitten, less than human, Schindler met them in the courtyard. They never forgot the sight of Schindler standing in the doorway. And they never forgot his raspy voice when he - surrounded by SS guards - gave them an unforgettable guarantee:'Now you are finally with me, you are safe now. Don't be afraid of anything. You don't have to worry anymore.'

Nazi KZ Camps - Gates To Hell

At Auschwitz the children were generally killed upon arrival. Children born in the camps were often killed on the spot, especially if the child was Jewish.

So called camp doctors, especially the notorious Josef Mengele, would torture and inflict incredible suffering on Jewish children, Gypsy children and many others. "Patients" were put into pressure chambers, tested with drugs, castrated, frozen to death, and exposed to various other traumas. Often Mengele injected chemicals into the eyes of children in an attempt to change their eye color.

One twin recalls the death of his brother:

"Dr. Mengele had always been more interested in Tibi. I am not sure why - perhaps because he was the older twin. Mengele made several operations on Tibi. One surgery on his spine left my brother paralyzed. He could not walk anymore. Then they took out his sexual organs. After the fourth operation, I did not see Tibi anymore. I cannot tell you how I felt. It is impossible to put into words how I felt. They had taken away my father, my mother, my two older brothers - and now, my twin ..."

These terrors occurred in Block 10 of Auschwitz I. Josef Mengele was nicknamed "the Angel of Death" for the inhuman experiments he conducted.

Near the end of the war, in order to cut expenses and save gas, "cost- accountant considerations" led to an order to place living children directly into the ovens or throw them into open burning pits.


Oscar Schindler knew. He toiled through the rough waters of the confusions of war and surfaced from the chaos to save his Jews. Generations will remember him for what he did ...

Until the liberation of spring, 1945, Oscar Schindler used all means at his disposal to ensure the safety of his Schindler-Jews. He spent every pfennig he had, and even Emilie Schindler`s jewels were sold, to buy food, clothes, and medicine. He set up a secret sanatorium in the factory with medical equipment purchased on the black market. Here Emilie Schindler looked after the sick. Those who did not survive were given a fitting Jewish burial in a hidden graveyard - established and paid for by Schindler.

Later accounts have revealed that Schindler spent something like 4 million German marks keeping his Jews out of the death camps - an enormous sum of money for those times.

Even though the Schindlers had had a large mansion placed at their disposal close to the factory, Oscar Schindler understood the fear which his Jews had of nocturnal visits from the SS. As in Plaszow, Schindler did not spent one single night outside the little office in the factory.

The factory continued to produce shells for the German Wehrmacht for 7 months. In all that time not one usable shell was produced! Not one shell passed the military quality tests. Instead, false military travel passes and ration cards were produced, just as Nazi uniforms, weapons, ammunition and hand-grenades were collected. But still, a tireless Schindler succeeded in these months in persuading the Gestapo to send a further 100 Belgian, Dutch and Hungarian Jews to his factory camp "with regard to the continuing war industry production".

In May, 1945, it was all over. The Russians moved into Brunnlitz. The previous evening, Schindler gathered everyone together in the factory and took a deeply emotional leave of them.

He told them they were free, he was a fugitive."My children, you are saved. Germany has lost the war." He asked that they didn't go into the neighboring houses to rob and plunder. "Prove yourself worthy of the millions of victims among you and refrain from any individual acts of revenge and terror". He announced that three yards of fabric were to be given each prisoner from his warehouse stores as well as a bottle of vodka - which brought a high price on the black market.

At five after midnight -  certain that his Jews finally were out of danger - Oscar Schindler left the factory. "I must leave now", Schindler said, "Auf Wiedersehen".

Oscar Schindler - and 1200 Schindler-Jews along with him - had survived the horrors of the Holocaust ....

Schindler in 1946, with Jews he saved

The Americans captured Amon Goeth and turned him over to the Poles. Goeth was convicted of the murders of tens of thousands of people. He was hanged for his crimes in Crakow on September 13, 1946.During his trial Goeth displayed provocative indifference. And even though he is being hanged, Amon Goeth still salutes his Fuhrer in one final act of defiance ...

Poldek Pfefferberg, the Schindler Jew who helped Oscar Schindler procure black-market items to bribe Nazi officers with during the war, later told he promised Schindler to tell his story:"You protect us, you save us, you feed us - we survived the Holocaust, the tragedy, the hardship, the sickness, the beatings, the killings! We must tell your story ...."

Oscar Schindler with Emilie

Schindler`s life after the war was a long series of failures. He tried without success to be a film producer and was deprived of his nationality immediately after the war. Threats from former Nazis meant that he felt insecure in post-war Germany, and he applied for an entry permit to the United States. This was refused as he had been a member of the Nazi party.

After this he fled to Buenos Aires in Argentina with his wife Emilie, his mistress and a dozen Schindler Jews. He settled down in 1949 as a farmer, supported financially by the Jewish organization Joint and thankful Jews, who never forgot him.

Part 2 - The Oscar Schindler Story









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